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Dec 28th: The Feast of the Holy Innocents

Myth Or Legend?

 December 28 is the feast day of the Holy Innocents. Ever since the 5th century, the Church has commemorated this day in memory of the children killed by King Herod after Jesus’ birth. Herod the Great was known for consolidating Roman rule over and advancing the Hellenization of Judaea. He built the city of Sebaste on the site of ancient Samaria as well as the port city of Caesarea and rebuilt the Temple of Jerusalem. But when he was visited by wise men from the East who were looking for the “newborn king of the Jews”, he was greatly disturbed. He asked the Magi what Scripture said of the location where the child would be born. They told him it would happen in Bethlehem. So Herod told the wise men to look for the child and then report back to him so he could also do him homage. The Magi found the Holy family and gave the child gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The Magi were warned by an angel that they should not report back to Herod. They went back home by a different route. Joseph also received a message from an angel and fled with his family to Egypt. Herod eventually realized that the Magi were not coming back. He was furious at being disobeyed. He ordered that all boys under the age of two who lived near Bethlehem should be killed. By doing this, he hoped that he would also be destroying the Christ child. The Holy Innocents remind us that as the Universal Church teaches, all life is precious and that the most vulnerable among us must be protected.  

The Massacre of the Innocents is the incident described in the nativity narrative of the Gospel of Matthew (2:16–18) in which Herod the Great, king of Judea, orders the execution of all male children who are two years old and under in the vicinity of Bethlehem. Church tradition commemorates them as the first Christian martyrs. Since Matthew is the only one to record the event and the details surrounding it are slim, it has led to speculation, some like Maier, Paul L. (1998). “Herod and the Infants of Bethlehem”,  even suggesting the event to be myth, or legend. Analogous To  DavidTurner,  writing for the Jerusalem Post where he posists that Anti-Judaism in Christian scripture directly led to the “Jewish Problem”, and where he cites Dr. Eisenman: “Dr Eisenman emphasizes that nowhere, at least not in Jewish scripture, are Jews accused of having murdered their prophets” –  Maeir argues that because the story of the massacre is found in no gospel other than Matthew, nor is it mentioned in the surviving works of Nicolaus of Damascus, who was a personal friend of Herod the Great, nor in Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews, despite his recording many of Herod’s misdeeds including the murder of three of his own sons “In view of the lack of independent confirmation that the event ever occurred, scholars consider it folklore inspired by Herod’s reputation.  The event is alluded to by Macrobius, a pagan writing in the early 5th century: “On hearing that the son of Herod, king of the Jews, had been slain when Herod ordered that all boys in Syria under the age of two be killed, [Augustus] said, ‘It’s better to be Herod’s pig than his son.'”

While the biblical episode is usually labeled a “massacre,” to emphasize the ruthless spilling of innocent blood. It was a terrible act, though it pales in comparison to the modern day killing of innocent children throughout the world, including the Black Genocide.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “The Greek Liturgy asserts that Herod killed 14,000 boys (ton hagion id chiliadon Nepion), the Syrians speak of 64,000, [and] many medieval authors of 144,000.” Modern writers reduce the number considerably, since Bethlehem was a rather small town. Knabenbauer brings it down to fifteen or twenty (Evang. S. Matt., I, 104), Bisping to ten or twelve (Evang. S. Matt.), Kellner to about six (Christus and seine Apostel, Freiburg, 1908); cf. “Anzeiger kath. Geistlichk. Deutschl.”, 15 Febr., 1909, p. 32. While this cruel deed of Herod as Maeir noted, is not mentioned by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, although he relates quite a number of atrocities committed by the king during the last years of his reign. The number of these children was so small that this crime appeared insignificant amongst the other misdeeds of Herod. Macrobius (Saturn., IV, xiv, de Augusto et jocis ejus) relates that when Augustus heard that amongst the boys of two years and under Herod’s own son also had been massacred, he said: “It is better to be Herod’s hog [ous], than his son [houios],” alluding to the Jewish law of not eating, and consequently not killing, swine. But the “infant” mentioned by Macrobius, is Antipater, the adult son of Herod, who, by command of the dying king was decapitated for having conspired against the life of his father.

Regardless of how many children were killed, their deaths were a horrible atrocity.

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